Dear Annie: I’ve been friends with “Ashley” for nine years, and we have supported each other through many hard life events. We hit it off immediately and are very close. We were both single and living alone during the pandemic and became the major part of each other’s support system and human interaction during that time.
Ashley rarely makes changes in her life. Since I have known her, she has often expressed a desire to change her living and employment situation, and also to find a partner. She has not changed any of these things, nor has she taken significant steps to change them. On the other hand, I have been through some hard times and have been in therapy for most of our friendship to deal with my own challenges. I have changed jobs, bought a condo, extricated myself from a bad relationship and am now engaged to the love of my life.
Ashley has had a tough past few years. She watched her sister sink deeply into alcoholism and ultimately die from the disease last summer. This has spurred many family conflicts and problems in her life.
My issue is that she won’t find a therapist to work through her grief and family issues and try to become a healthier person. I feel like she is using me as her therapist. She complains to me about everything, and most of the time I have been happy to listen. However, lately it has been very draining.
During the past six months, I have told her almost every time we talk that she needs to find a therapist, and she hasn’t done it yet. She agrees with me but keeps making excuses. I want to tell her that I won’t continue listening to her until she finds a therapist, but I know this isn’t the right approach because it feels manipulative. How do I express to her that she needs to get some help and make some changes in her life? How do I tell her that I can’t listen to her complain about the same things incessantly anymore but I do still want to remain friends? Is this just a part of friendship that I need to accept? I would appreciate any advice.
Dear Friend: You are indeed a friend, and a good one at that. It sounds like you are looking out for Ashley’s best interest without losing sight of the boundaries you need. You clearly care about her a lot, and that puts you in a tough position.
She might be intimidated by the prospect of finding a therapist and unloading her emotional burden on a stranger. Why not give her a nudge in the right direction by helping her research therapists in your area and scheduling an appointment? You can also tell her how pivotal therapy has been for you in making positive life changes.
No, it shouldn’t be your “job” to do this work for her, but sometimes we need to give our friends a little extra push. She’s lucky to have you.